March 9th, 2007

geekier than thou

On "weirdos" vs. "executives"

I mentioned in my previous post that I try to personally steer clear of the "executive freak" vs. "weirdo freak" distinction. I wanted to take a moment to expand on that, because this dovetails very neatly with something I said over in lupagreenwolf's journal recently.

Now, there are going to be (to borrow Eddie Izzard's coinage) "weirdoes" in every movement. The people who just make you stop and stare. The ones with no apparent sense of community responsibility and a narrow focus on something that manages to make no sense to anyone but them. The infamous ones, who make you inwardly wince when someone outside the group inevitably recognizes them and paints the entire group with that brush.

I'm sympathetic to the common arguments for weirdo exclusion. People passionate about a subculture understandably don't want their public face to be obnoxious and out of control; fringe ideas have enough trouble getting taken seriously that a full-on embrace of the weirdoes can poison the rest of the group's efforts.

But too often, splitting a group out into "executives" and "weirdoes" has ... well, exactly the advertised effect: it shatters the community. Self-righteous battles over who's "really" a $group_member and who isn't welcome there produce a lot of splinters, sharp edges, and cause people of good faith to tiptoe around the whole area lest they find themselves impaled. (I'm sure any Otherkin or pagan can name some immediate examples of the phenomenon here.)

The groups that have dealt with this most successfully have taken a big-tent, small-platform approach: Invite the weirdoes in, but don't let them set the agenda.

Because the truth is, you can't keep the weirdoes out -- but you can, in any of a variety of ways, drive away the executives that legitimize you. Being too exclusive will generate confrontation and drama that makes your most down-to-earth members run away. Being too extremist-driven will do the same.  Either drives the executives underground, and once they're there, they can't provide the good public faces that earn you quiet respect.

So it's been my experience that actually trying to make the "executive"/"weirdo" distinction is counterproductive. Let the executives and weirdoes sort themselves out. To the extent that anyone can tell them apart, anyway. ]B=8)

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